On September 17th, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs David Shear testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on US security strategy in Asia. In written testimony, Shear stated:
Between 2013 and 2014, we increased global FON [freedom of navigation] operations by 84 %, the majority of which were conducted in the Asia Pacific. As Secretary Carter has stated, the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as US forces do all around the world, and our FON Operations are a critical example of this.
However, under questioning Shear revealed that the US hasn’t conducted a freedom of navigation operation near China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea since 2012. The entire premise of a FON mission is to assert America’s right to operate in a particular space. By avoiding Chinese-occupied reefs in the South China Sea, the US is tacitly acknowledging Beijing’s “sovereignty” in these international waters.